Our editors’ guide to Approaches to History (Plain Text)

Anthropology

Potential Topics:

  • Rituals (e.g. use for political legitimacy)
  • Religion and Magic (difference, theories of culture)
  • Family and Kinship (has family always meant the same thing? How has our understanding changed?)

Anthropology approaches is all about exploring the intricacies of culture in historical study. You learn about concepts like ‘thick description,’ looking at the layers of meaning packed into things as simple as winking or as complex as kingship. You also explore how rituals work, why they might be used and who uses them.

Art

Potential Topics:

  • Museology (what are museums, who gets to control them, what purposes have they served historically)
  • Ways of Seeing (when you look at an image from the Middle Ages, are you seeing it in the same way as contemporaries would have? What historical and physical contexts impact the understanding of art?)
  • Propaganda (pretty self explanatory)

Art approaches is all about looking at the historical nature of artwork. Can we use it as a historical source? What considerations have to be put into place? What does the practice of art collection reveal about historical study more generally?

Gender

Potential Topics:

  • Family and Sexuality (role of women within families, connection of sexual activity and childbirth, queer history)
  • Gender and work (what roles did women historically fulfil within the work force, how was gender impacted by economic/labour developments)
  • Gender, religion and culture (how did women interact with patriarchal religion and how could they carve out spaces for themselves, female religiosity)

Gender is a very cool approach and will set you up perfectly to explore themes of gender, sexuality and queer history within your other papers (often an overlooked area).

Economics

Potential Topics:

  • Money and Inflation (financial bubbles and crises)
  • Slavery (Modern slavery and its relationship to capitalism/industrialisation)
  • Natural Resources and the Economy (this one usually takes in famine, coal, gold and so on)

Economics is great for those who like to look at the big picture. How did banks evolve? What factors determine living standards within societies? How can we explain the Industrial Revolution? If you invested in GME, then the week on financial bubbles might hit a bit too close to home. No prior economics knowledge is needed – the reading is focused around ideas rather than complex economic methodologies.

Sociology

Potential Topics:

  • Social stratification (class structure and relations)
  • Power and authority (how are these things constructed)
  • Religion (what is religion? What purpose does it serve?)

Sociology is a slightly clinical anthropology; where Anthro feels very much in the field, this is more concerned with theory. But don’t be put off – the theory you explore (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) has defined a lot of modern thought, so the opportunity to grapple with it is always useful.

Archaeology

Potential Topics:

  • Production and exchange (who made physical objects, and how did they move?)
  • Built environment (who gets to decide what a city or building looks like? What purposes does it serve? How do buildings mean?)
  • Burial (How does architecture and objects contribute to people’s final moments? What does burial reveal about social status?)

Archaeology approaches is the course to go for if you want to get an understanding of material and physical experience throughout history. How do the spaces where historical events take place impact those events? What is the role of material objects? How have they changed?